The Princess of Wales was rather like a star of silent films. Like them, she was seen, admired and adored in still photographs or on the screen, smiling, waving, looking beautiful and being gracious, but there was no soundtrack. Only a few people who had heard Diana giving a speech in public knew how she sounded and whether, like some stars of the silent screen, her voice seemed at odds with the way she looked. 

 

Once she had learned the royal brand of small talk, Diana had no problems coping with that. However, standing up in front of an audience, with all eyes on her, and making a speech lasting some minutes was another game altogether. Initially, Diana was terrified of public life. During her first three years as Princess of Wales, she avoided giving speeches whenever she could and when she could not, she made do with just a few words. In fact, between 1981 and 1984, Diana spoke no more than about 500 words in public and seemed to prefer remaining a beautiful, smiling, but largely silent figure.

 

Speeches formed an integral part of royal duties and it was unfortunate that Diana was not a natural at it. It did not help that she was thrown in at the deep end when she was required to make her first speech on her very first tour as Princess: in Wales in 1981, when she thanked the Lord Mayor and Council of Cardiff for granting her the Freedom of the city. It was a brave effort, all the more so because it included a sentence or two in Welsh language, which Diana had to learn phonetically.

 

All the same, it was evident that she would have to work hard at improving her diction and delivery and somehow get her nerves under control. This became all the more vital as her list of presidencies and patronages expanded. She found herself addressing conferences and meetings where she spoke up for Barnardo's, the Child Accident Prevention Trust and Relate, a charity that offers guidance and counselling to families in crisis, among others.

 

Fortunately, expert help was at hand in the shape of Sir Richard Attenborough, the distinguished film actor and director, who was Chairman of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). Diana became President of RADA in 1989, but before that, Sir Richard had been giving her the benefit of his considerable skills. He made speech-making easier for Diana by telling her to include 'stage' instructions in her text, such as: 'Lift your head here... Smile here... Pause... Smile again.' This trick, which she mastered with practice, was to follow the instructions naturally, as if they were not there.

 

The most important thing for Diana to control, though, was her tendency to gabble out her words in a rush and to breathe in the wrong places, both sure signs of nerves. Gradually, she learned to break sentences into phrases, to pause before starting on a new topic; and to vary the pitch of her voice to avoid sounding stilted and monotonous.

 

Source: 

  • Diana: An Extraordinary Life, By Weidenfeld Nicolson Illustrated. Publication Date: 14 September 1998

Princess Diana Speaking, As Many Practiced Speakers Do, With The Help Of Notes